Historic job losses and an economic downturn have left millions of people in debt in 2020. For some folks, that means dealing with calls from debt collectors. Starting late next year, collectors will also be allowed to contact consumers by email, text message, and even through social media.
If that sounds too invasive, Consumer Reports has some tips to help you manage collection communications.
You heard right: Beginning late next year, the ways that collection agencies can legally contact you will greatly expand. About 70 million people have bills in collections.
While trying to collect legitimate debt is perfectly legal, the industry has a history of aggressive tactics, sometimes even trying to collect money from consumers who don’t even owe it.
Debt collectors are notorious for hounding consumers over debts that have already been paid off or were never owed in the first place.
The collection industry welcomes the change. One representative said it’s “a significant step forward in updating outdated collections practices that hurt small businesses and left consumers in the dark.”
Even with these changes, there are still ways to guard against aggressive, unfair, and even illegal collections.
For example, CR says that if a debt collector contacts you, request verification of the debt. You can expect to receive information on the debt in the mail within about five days later.
And many states have a statute of limitations on how long debt can be collected upon, typically three to six years, after which you no longer need to pay it. So check the laws in your state. Don’t pay any part of a debt until you’re sure you still owe it. Otherwise, you could accidentally revive old debt you no longer owe.
If you don’t recognize the charge, get a copy of your credit report to make sure you weren’t the victim of identity theft. You can get free credit reports from annual-credit-report-dot-com.
And if you do owe money but can’t afford to pay it all at once, you should try negotiating a lower repayment amount and a payment plan you can afford.
It’s not entirely clear how collection agencies will use social media to reach consumers. For its part, Facebook, which also owns Instagram, told Consumer Reports in a statement, “We are in the process of reviewing this new rule and will work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the coming months to understand its effect on people who use our services.” Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.